He’s not a Pritzker or a Kennedy, or even a Pawar or Biss for that matter. But he is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor of Illinois.
His name is Alex Paterakis and he’s a 29-year-old lifelong Illinoisan who was born in Skokie. What are his plans to get the state back on track?
Paterakis joins Paris Schutz in conversation Tuesday. Below, a Q&A with the candidate.
Chicago Tonight: What prompted you to want to throw your hat into the ring for the governor’s race? You are obviously going to be going up against some very deep-pocketed competition.
Alex Paterakis: Politics right now have been very polarizing and what I’ve noticed is there are two things to actually run for office right now. One was you are either funded by large corporations. The other is to be a self-made millionaire or billionaire. I saw how the political climate was in Illinois – and again I’m a Democrat, I’ve always been a Democrat – but I’ve looked into the party in the last couple of years and I’ve seen a lot of policy that has not been a Democratic policy, a progressive income tax, let’s say re-structuring the education funding system, just basic things that any Democrat should have passed and we’ve had two Democratic governors and none of that’s happened. And I saw that I need to do something because the people that are in power right now whether they be Democrats or Republicans are not solving core issues that everyone in Illinois agrees are core key issues because of either interests or catering to a select few.
So I wanted to go against the money and against the establishment I would say in a way. I’m not worried about the large amount of money. To me, the people capital when people volunteer for me or advocate for me is worth a lot more to me and a lot more to what I’m doing than paying you know $40 million to an advertising agency.
CT: Many people may agree with you in terms of not liking how money can dominate politics but, nevertheless, the system as it is certainly favors people who can buy lots of political advertising and get their message out more easily. How are you planning on overcoming that disadvantage?
AP: Through my social media presence. To take advantage of the volunteers that have advocated for me and who are going to be working for me. Money does not always buy… it gets you to the table. Trust me it gets you to the table. Some of these guys running throw millions and millions of dollars – Bruce Rauner for example threw millions of millions of dollars (at his campaign) and it got him to the table, he’s self-funding the Republican Party, but I see it as I’m going to reject the system and reject that you have to spend $40 to $50 million on advertising agencies and am going to use social media platforms via live videos, via Facebook, via Instagram, via Twitter, via Snapchat – all those things to get my message out there rather than the traditional form of media which is going through advertising on TV and things like that. I’ll have to do some of that there’s no doubt about that but that’s how I’m going about things. And also visiting as many people as I can both in the north suburbs of Chicago, in Chicago and also the people that have been forgotten in southern Illinois.
CT: Have you ever run for political office before?
CT: So why did you want to start with the governor’s race? Why not start smaller and build a political profile and then work up? Why start with a gubernatorial run?
AP: Because we’re in dire need right now in Illinois, this is a critical moment for Illinois. We’ve been without a budget for two going on three years. The people of both parties, both sides have kicked the can down the road. They’ve not fixed core, key issues and we’re losing people like crazy right now in Illinois and I’m afraid that if I were to wait to do anything and you know build things up, maybe run for state office, state representative things like that.
First of all, there’s a very few people in our legislature who control what is dictated, so a lot of people that run, a lot of people that go downstate do not have any political power to make any difference because the power is held by a few. And right now we’re in a critical state in that my generation is flocking away from the state right now and in the next two to five years there might not be … you know we’re going to lose a congressional seat because we’re going to lose so much population that I feel that things would get worse and worse so that’s why I’m doing this now.
CT: In terms of your resume, what do you think is the experience that you have that makes you qualified to be governor of the state?
AP: First of all, I’m a small business owner so I know how to hire people. I know how to build up a business from nothing. I know the importance of a budget – one of the things I sort of agree with Governor Rauner, I don’t agree with how he’s going to do it, is a balanced budget. I know how to run a business. I know how to start a business from nothing. I know how to get through the complexities of Illinois. I’m also a civil engineer too, and through civil engineering I’m a problem solver and I fix problems and know through volunteering for other campaigns, going through some of the process and some of my studies on political campaigning and also policy that I can make an impact. It’s not traditional political experience but that’s why I see that I can make a difference based on what I’ve studied, my hiring people for a small business that I grew out of nothing and also being a problem-solver, civil engineer and knowing what to do and how we’re going to get things done in Illinois.
CT: Can you tell me a little bit more about your businesses? One article that I read referenced that you had two online businesses. Can you tell me about the businesses?
AP: They are just outdoor equipment, so like camping, everything like that. I started those about five or six years ago and we’ve grown into a few retail locations as well as an online presence. And those two businesses one is a subsidiary of the other.
CT: What are the names of the businesses?
AP: Mir Tactical.
CT: You mentioned hiring. How many people have you employed in those businesses?
AP: We’re at about 30 employees right now and have grown it in the last five years from about two to that without any business loans or anything like that.
CT: What would be your priorities if you were to be elected governor?
AP: First off we need a budget first and foremost. It’s going to be out of whack, out of balance, it’s just needs to get done so that a lot of families have security, services are being funded, our bill backlog decreases. That’s how we fix things right.
One of biggest things – we have a huge migration issue within Illinois. It’s a few things because we’re not taking care of the citizens and then we are taxing the citizens to death. The one thing I would love to see would be a reduction in property taxes. I’d love to see a progressive income tax rate. Now if we can’t do that right away because that requires amending the constitution we could offer some sort of tax credit or something that individuals under a certain economic standing – so less than $100,000 or $200,000, whatever that may be.
Also, to increase revenues I am one of the first proponents for the legalization of cannabis not only for recreational use but also expanding the medical uses and using that as a way to grow industry in Illinois. We have a huge farming community that would further increase through legalization of cannabis and also hemp production.
Let’s talk education. New York has just implemented free education for all and why I really like that idea is that they put a stipulation on it saying that you get as much public education for K-12 as possible for four or five years or whatever that may take you but you are going to have to stay in the state for those four or five years or you pay a prorated, you know back to the state. I love that because first of all we are investing in the kids that stay here and want go to school here and also we are building and stopping people from leaving. We are investing in kids so that they invest in us as a state and I love that idea.
And then small business reform, it’s very difficult to do business in Illinois (because of) regulation and taxes and things like that. We’re giving massive corporations tax breaks but then the people that actually create jobs which are small businesses we’re giving them a full tax rate. I would love to cut taxes on certain industries, on manufacturing and high technologies to bring new industry and to retain manufacturing jobs in Illinois rather than seeing a lot of them go to Indiana right now. Those are a few things that I would do right away.
CT: In terms of providing free education as New York has proposed, the state of Illinois has the worst credit rating in the country, how would you find the funds to provide those kinds of things?
AP: Through the things that I’ve just talked about. Through the progressive income tax where we would tax millionaires at a higher rate you gain about $2 to $3 billion right there. Also, through the legalization of cannabis that would bring upwards of $400 million to $700 million a year through taxes. Also, by capping property taxes I want to stop the bleeding of residents within Illinois. If you think about it, if we keep losing more and more residents those are taxable residents that are leaving the state so now we are gaining no tax revenue from those individuals.
If we bring manufacturing back to Illinois and we offer tax credits for new companies to start up in Illinois that alone will keep people in the state and thus we will gain not only high-income jobs but also keeping that tax revenue in the state rather than moving out of the state.
CT: Have you heard anything from the local Democratic Party? Do you think there is any possibility that they might give you some support?
AP: I don’t plan on any of that support. I’m a newcomer to this. I’m a disrupter to the normal ebb and flow to this. I hope that they would. I’ve had a few groups reach out to me but I’ve not had any contact with any of the major party leadership within Springfield. I’ve never met Mike Madigan, I’ve never met John Cullerton, never talked to them and I’m keeping it that way.
The people are more important to me than any organization.
CT: What reaction have you had to your campaign? What kind of feedback have you been getting?
AP: I think one of the top Google searches of my name is “age.” I’m 29 years old, I’ve had people give me a good response I’ve had bad responses. Mainly positive. The bad responses have just been derogatory ... I know what kids go through now through social media bullying. You can actually see that we’re running a political campaign now which I’ve never experienced that before. I’ve had very good positive feedback, a lot of visits, a lot of groups reach out to me – not the typical county Democratic groups – but local action groups that have sprouted up after the election this year.
It’s been very positive. People want me to do live videos all the time because what I do is that I’m not afraid to answer any of their questions. A lot of politicians will skirt around the issues and tell you what you want to hear but I’m constantly doing live videos and answering questions and people have responded great.
This is the third in a series of conversations we will be having with declared candidates for Illinois governor. We will introduce you to some of the other candidates in the coming weeks.
April 18: The state senator jumped into the crowded field vying for the Democratic nomination for governor a month ago. He joins us in discussion.
April 4: The Chicago alderman joins host Eddie Arruza to discuss his run for Illinois governor.